The Three Pillars of Sustainability: Economic, Social And EnvironmentDana Colson
In development terms, sustainability refers to securing present needs without hindering future generations’ ability to meet theirs. Today, corporate sustainability remains a crucial concern for many investors seeking to earn economic profits while achieving social harmony through impact investing.
The Three Pillars of Sustainability
Sustainability has three main pillars: social, economic, and environmental pillars. The three pillars of sustainability must function as a whole; If any pillar gets compromised, the entire system becomes unsustainable. This piece explores these three pillars and how they contribute to sustainability.
1. The economic pillar
Economic sustainability is often the primary concern for any business. A business needs to be profitable to ensure continuity. However, the economic pillar discourages earning profits at all costs. Businesses must earn profits in a manner that considers the other two pillars.
Job creation, compliance, and proper governance of ecosystems are other activities that fit under the economic pillar. Job creation through high employment rates is good for the economy and people’s social welfare.
This pillar appears under corporate governance under the economic, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. Good corporate governance practices encourage the alignment of interests between a company’s shareholders, the board of directors, and the management team. Such practices give investors’ confidence that a company’s systems are transparent and efficient. Companies should avoid engaging in illegal practices that put societies and the environment at risk of harm. Organizations should solve conflicts of interest between stakeholders fairly and transparently.
2. The environmental pillar
The environmental pillar focuses on the planet’s well-being—the pillar advocates for improving air and water quality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimizing resource wastage. Natural environments significantly affect human, animal, and plant health quality. Today, many human health problems arise from poor air and water quality.
Governments and their stakeholders should put more effort into preserving and restoring natural ecosystems. A significant portion of industrial raw materials comes from our natural ecosystems. For example, limestone is a primary ingredient in cement production, crucial in construction. However, unsustainable mining of limestone for cement puts natural ecosystems at risk of damage through pollution.
Companies in the supply and retail chain can embrace environmental sustainability by reducing the quantity of packaging materials. Recycling textile and electronic waste helps reduce unsustainable resource extraction, which is detrimental to natural environments. Reusing and recycling plastics helps reduce ocean pollution by decreasing the number of plastics that flow into oceans and seas. Oil leakages and the discharge of industrial effluent threaten the survival of marine ecosystems.
Globally, the United Nations environmental program (UNEP) is responsible for pushing for environmental sustainability. The following stakeholders help push UNEP’s efforts in realizing environmental sustainability:
- Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
- Environmental protection agencies (EPAs)
- State governments
3. Social Pillar
The social pillar advocates putting in place measures that promote societal well-being. A business is unlikely to be profitable if it lacks the support of its employees, the community it operates in, and other stakeholders. Organizations benefit when they take care of their employee’s welfare. Employees’ productivity increases when they feel recognized and appropriately rewarded for their efforts.
To improve employee welfare, companies should offer better engagement terms by putting in place flexible schedules and providing adequate maternity and paternal benefits packages. Besides providing reasonable compensation, businesses should provide sufficient learning and development opportunities that boost worker skills. Lastly, governments and organizations need to be vigilant to cut out unfair practices such as child labor and worker exploitation in production and supply chains.
Companies and organizations give back to the community in many ways. Through fundraising and donations, businesses can participate in community initiatives such as establishing public parks and setting up schools, hospitals, and centers for senior citizens. Scholarships and sponsorships are other ways organizations help achieve social balance.
Why sustainability is important
The global human population at the end of 2021 stands at just over 7.9 billion. As the population keeps growing, so does the demand for critical resources for human survival. Although a bigger population translates to a higher demand for resources, the biggest challenge lies in overconsumption habits.
Today’s wasteful consumption habits are leading to resource exploitation in the form of overfishing, deforestation, and extinction of many animal species. Sustainability policies promote the achievement of economic objectives without straining natural ecosystems.
Uneven wealth distribution also contributes significantly to unsustainability. Despite the rise in global human populations, most people still live in abject poverty, unable to meet basic needs. The same goes for energy consumption, where a handful of developed countries account for the largest consumption. Sustainability policies help improve the basic living standards of those living below the poverty line and achieve equitable distribution of wealth necessary for society balance.